Blessing or curse

I’ve read (skimmed if we’re being honest) a couple of different articles lately touching on this idea that we American Christians are “blessed” with our material abundance and/or how easily that phrase rolls off our tongue.

“Oh I’m doing well. God has really blessed us lately with our new car/house/promotion/health/insert latest toy”.

The articles both made me nod emphatically in agreement and squirm uncomfortably in my chair. Because I’ve done that. And I didn’t just do that before I went to the Philippines where, upon arrival, my eyes were opened & all deceptively pretty but false theology was burned away in  a flash of enlightenment. (Where is my sarcasm font?)

It’s easy for me to denounce false theology when it’s being preached by some big shot. Not to pick on the “prosperity gospel” (but to pick on the “prosperity gospel”), I cringe when I hear the idea that financial/material abundance is the will of God, that there is some sort of quid pro quo  between us and God. We have faith & He spoils us with the latest gadgets or more square footage or excellent health insurance.  I denounce it vehemently. God doesn’t promise earthly comfort. He promises a relationship with and transformation through Him. Amen and hallelujah.

And then. Then I sit in my big fluffy ridiculously comfortable chair sipping on my freshly brewed coffee with just the right amount of creamer, wrapped in my warm blanket in the middle of the summer because the central air in my crazy big, clean and sturdy house has made me chilly. I sit there with my cat purring on my lap and I look around and think about my refrigerator full of food and my reliable, emissions tested vehicle full of gas. And I thank God for all the blessings He has bestowed upon me and my family. We serve in our church. We tithe. We pray and attend our Lifegroup. We have checked the boxes of  “good Christians”. And this insidious idea that God is rewarding us for our good deeds slithers in and takes root.

In the Philippines I met a woman who lived under a tarp next to a bridge with her sore covered, naked children. And the next day I watched this woman show up at church, like she does weekly, with her kids in their ill fitting Sunday best….clothes we wouldn’t even donate to Goodwill. She was excited because we were the same age and we were both mothers. We come from polar opposite lives but we could connect. We talked about kids and parenting…and our faith in God. Her relationship is deep and sustaining and vibrant. She is impoverished materially and abundantly rich spiritually. Her very life should be all the proof I need to eliminate that sneaky idea that living comfortably is proof of God’s favor. Why me and not her (or any of the hundreds of thousands around the world like her)? And yet. Just last week I found myself snuggled in my chair thanking God for all His blessings. And perhaps I was a bit smug because OBVIOUSLY we’re doing something right. When suddenly Joseph (yes, of the  techni multicolored coat) came to mind. Specifically him telling his brothers “What you meant evil, God has used for good…”

Okay. So this is a leap but take it with me. I haven’t had anyone plot to murder me lately. (At least I don’t think so.) I haven’t been sold into slavery. Nothing  bad or evil has happened to me in a long time (or arguably…ever). But sitting there I began to wonder…what if all this abundance and comfort isn’t a gift from God. What if it is a distraction from Satan? What if I’m not blessed…but cursed? The idea shook me. What do I DO with that? Because  (again with the honesty) I’m not going to sell my family into poverty. I’m not going to look my children in the eyes and say “I’m sorry but you have to go hungry now. And sleep on the street. Oh…and forget about being clean or having medical care. But you’ll have God!!!” My husband and I DO have the opportunity to provide for our family and I don’t think that’s intrinsically bad. There’s a responsibility that comes with the opportunity though. (With great power comes…oh never mind). And that’s where Joseph comes in. So…maybe Satan IS trying to distract me. Maybe this comfort WAS meant to curse me by weakening my relationship with God. But God can use all….this.  But here’s what I didn’t get from the other articles (see above – skimming said articles) – it doesn’t end with the realization that our American wealth does NOT equate blessing. It doesn’t even end with the idea that the goodies might actually be meant for evil. It all BEGINS with the realization that God can use everything we have for His purposes. “What you meant for evil, God used for good.” But recognition without action is nothing. After all, everyone in the parable of the Good Samaritan RECOGNIZED there was a man lying in the road dying. But they didn’t take action to help. (Well look at me with all my Biblical illustrations tonight. I can check that “good Christian blogger” box now).

I don’t want you to feel guilty for being materially wealthy. I went down that path so you don’t have to.  God doesn’t deal in guilt trips. Guilt immobilizes, it doesn’t result in transformative action. Conviction is more God’s bag.  If guilt immobilizes, conviction motivates. But I wasn’t convicted about my possessions. I was convicted about how I SEE my possessions.

Soooo GREAT. We’re all convicted. Now what.

Well  my action step is daily communication with God. It’s checking in. It’s recognizing, every day, that I am abundantly spoiled. And asking Him what He wants me to do with that. How does He want to use this big house? How does He want to use my physical health, energy and the abilities that provides? Some days – most days – I don’t get a clear answer. Or an answer at all. That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it. I just want to live in the awareness that everything I enjoy belongs to God. I don’t want to keep falling into the trap of complacency and believing that I’m “good enough” because I have (more than) enough. And I never EVER want to insult my beautiful brothers and sisters worldwide by uttering the words “I’m blessed because I have….<insert material wealth>” I’m blessed for the same reason they are. I’m blessed because I can have a relationship with Jesus.

A plan for us all

Stacey over at Glitter and Churchy Church published a post today that spurred me to edit/publish one I’ve been sitting on since last weekend when I attended the same conference she talks about. Go read…now or after you finish here. Whatever. But go read. She took a short term mission trip and used it to fuel her passion AND actions.  (By the way, she pulls off that signature look she mentions in a FANTASTIC way.)

So there was a Human Trafficking 101 conference here in Boise last weekend. Because, believe it or not, human trafficking & child exploitation happens right here, in our safe/clean/beautiful/boring town. I went in looking for resources and action steps more than information. I’ve read and watched and seen the statistics. I have the information. But what I didn’t have was first hand accounts from people who work with this issue on a daily basis. What I didn’t have were the personal stories from my backyard.What I didn’t have were real, local numbers from the offices of warriors in my community. I went in prepared to take notes. I didn’t, convinced that there was no way I’d forget what I’d heard. But driving home I realized I was so overwhelmed, so over-saturated that I could only remember bits and pieces and the emotions. I was exhausted and I couldn’t process or feel anything.  They showed a documentary after the speakers and I just went straight home. I couldn’t handle anything further. And I was frustrated. I wanted action steps. I wanted to sign up to DO something. I work well in a support role…give me papers to files, contact lists to alphabetize & color code, a blog or twitter account to update, a fund raiser to organize. WHERE WAS THE DOTTED LINE TO SIGN UP TO DO SOMETHING?!!?

A week later, I can think more clearly. I can process. I’ve gotten past the sense of overwhelming helplessness and frustration. One thing that we heard multiple times was that the majority (80? 90%?) of girls that are trafficked come from abusive homes/situations. And it’s very easy to take that fact and think “Oh. My daughter/niece/cousin/neighbor doesn’t fall into that category. She’s safe.” But. But. That’s looking at only a portion of what happens. Your loved one may never be physically touched. And for that, I am grateful. Believe me. You may know for 100% certain that she’s in a safe, loving, positive, protected home. There are a LOT of amazing families out there. But there was another aspect the detectives mentioned that never occurred to me. Exploitation. One of them said “Once upon a time you worried about the creepy guy down the street. Now we’re putting computers in every 13 year old’s pocket and we have to worry about every creepy guy IN THE WORLD.” These guys who exploit are are masterminds at manipulation.  And by nature of their development and hormones, even your well adjusted, confident, protected daughter is not 100% safe. She may never be touched by these guys. And that’s GOOD. Please don’t get me wrong. But what happens if they convince her to simply send them a video of her changing. Or a “tastefully sexy” picture. Once that door has been opened, it’s rarely going to stop with “tastefully sexy”. What happens when she realizes what her image has been used for? When she realizes just how many hundreds of thousands of people have seen it? When she realizes as she’s walking down the street that some of these people could recognize her for…that? How is she going to view men now? What kind of damage is being done to her psychologically, emotionally, relationally?

I hear it said all the time that this is a “women’s problem” or a “female problem”. It’s not. I understand where that phrase comes from but our men are hurt by this too. If they are watching porn, their expectations of women and relationships are damaged. If they’re not, it’s often implied they’re “not men”. After all, it’s just natural, right? And what about how the damage to the women affects them. These are future wives and partners. And yet, these children will be running the world we live in. These children will be making decisions that influence us. These children will be raising the next generation. These children are exposed to sex and are more sexualized  than any generation before. On average they are exposed to porn at the age of 11. ELEVEN. When I was in 5th/6th grade, boys and girls were just starting to rediscover each other….by tripping each other and pulling hair and playing chase. The ones who snuck a kiss behind the tree on the playground were publicly tried and found guilty of having cooties. We may have learned what sex was in a very clinical manner at that age…and we were horrified by the idea. Now? Now it’s entertainment and something to experiment with. AT ELEVEN.

Last weekend I was a bit frustrated and a lot overwhelmed & discouraged. I didn’t have an action step. I didn’t have a plan. Over the past week though I’ve realized – we ALL have an action step. Because all of us can influence a child. Rescuing the currently exploited girls (and boys) is important. Please don’t misunderstand. That is INCREDIBLY important. But if we just rescue after the fact, we will never make progress against the problem. There is still demand and there will ALWAYS be someone to utilize. But if we influence our children, if we raise them with knowledge of healthy relationships and to be violently opposed to the very idea of using another human being, then the demand AND the source starts to shrink.

This is a problem for all of us. And we don’t have to be social workers or detectives or on a task force to make a difference.  If you’re a parent, be THAT parent. Be the unreasonable, over protective parent who insists on knowing every password and pass code. Be the nosy parent who reads texts and checks phones and computers. Be the paranoid parent that has tracking/monitoring software on devices. Be the embarrassing parent who insists on having THOSE mortifying conversations.  Be the parent who knows your child and who is influencing them. We don’t have to lock these precious kids in a cellar to protect them. They need to understand the world.  They need to see and experience all the good while still recognizing the negatives….and being equipped to deal with those. But we also can’t give them unlimited and unsupervised exposure. Be involved. (Admission – I don’t do all these things all the time. I’m not a great mother. I know all the areas I could improve. But I can’t give up. You’re not a perfect parent either. It’s okay. Just don’t give up.)

If you’re not a parent, be a mentor and a friend. Be a safe place, a safe person for someone. Be a positive influence, show our children what life CAN be like. They need more than mom and dad….and some don’t even have that positive example to see. My hat is off to the people who face this darkness head on in daily battle. We need them. But we “common people” have a job to do that is just important. We have an action step. We have a place to start.

Cracked pedestals

I was going to comment on the whole Steven Furtick house controversy. (Summary: Pastor of a mega church & author of multiple best selling books builds an obscenely large house that is legally in the name of a trust managed by one of the elders but allegedly requests for financial transparency have been denied.)

But basically all I have to say on the matter is that I DO think that financial transparency for a church and it’s leaders is vital. Perhaps I’m spoiled by our home church that puts financial information in the welcome packet for visitors – including pastors’ salaries. I don’t know how common of a practice that is. However, I DO feel that if you embrace the role of a public figure and/or leader, you also have a responsibility to be more transparent than some might consider comfortable. It’s not a comfortable or easy role. Whether you’re a Rick Warren or a Steven Furtick, you have a unique opportunity to positively influence those who look to you as an example and for guidance. Leading means being an example and that’s difficult to do without transparency. (If we get really down to it, I think all Christians should probably be transparent, with finances especially, if asked. Just most of us will never be asked!)

Ultimately, it’s not really my business how this pastor – or any pastor – spends their money. I understand the controversy. But that’s a matter between him and God, as are all matters. I can be outraged by behavior all I want but in the end, I’m only accountable for MY actions and habits and life.

What this little incident did though was give me an opportunity to have a short but (hopefully) meaningful conversation with one of the boys. He was rather concerned and extremely disappointed. His comment was “I hope he’s going to show everyone up by announcing it’s actually for a ministry project, not just for his family. He’s my FAVORITE PASTOR. I LIKE HIM SO MUCH. Why would he do this?” See, the idea of this man building an unnecessarily large & luxurious home was abhorrent to him. He feels it’s unnecessary and gluttonous (can that be used for possessions?) and just….It just made him uncomfortable. And it made him uncomfortable because he has this guy on a pedestal. And so I was able to point out how human heroes will always disappoint us. (The right) Role models are good. I highly encourage our boys to engage in relationships with trusted mentors. But. But. They’re human. And when you forget that and start moving them to idol status, the crash when they screw up is going to be that much worse. There’s more disappointment & less grace. More judgement and less understanding.

It makes me take a step back and wonder – who do I idolize? Who do I have on a pedestal? Are my role models upstanding examples in my own life that can pour into me, be transparent with me? Or are they an imagined persona of a distant person that could never live up to those expectations anyway?

Cracked and Oozing

I keep thinking I should write more. But I don’t want to primarily share negativity. I want to write uplifting and cheerful and fun words. And when life is uplifting and cheerful and fun, I’m focused on living it, soaking it in. So those experiences and words? They are held close and treasured but rarely shared with a blank page. I hope to remedy that. But herein lies the current problem. Primarily? Mostly?  I’m tired. I’m emotionally exhausted from the strain of decisions made by members of both my immediate family and the one I married into. I’m drained from watching my husband struggle to stand up for what he knows is right while trying to balance the feelings and hurts and relationships of those he loves. I’m frustrated that I can’t help him and that no one else involved seems to feel peace is a priority if it means any kind of sacrifice on their part – all while he is sacrificing his energy and heart. I’m wearied from watching helplessly from a distance as those close to my heart attempt to self-destruct, taking out other loved ones with them. I’m broken hearted from the deluge of news from friends and acquaintances that reverberate through conversations and texts and social media with pain that encompasses the physical, emotional and spiritual realms.  I’m emptied, physically, from the apparent rebellion of my body. And I’m worn down, mentally, from the uncertainty – how will my body react to my former “normal”? Is it really all in my head? Am I losing my mind? Becoming lazy and subconsciously creating an excuse?

I feel cracked, oozing energy at all levels. I looked at the 100 Word prompt thinking I just needed to write SOMETHING and immediately felt as if my brain was wrapped in a thick, suffocating blanket. The idea of anything outside of essential day to day actions just…well… fatigues me.

I want to be support for my husband, not another burden. I want to be loving and attentive wife and mother and sister and daughter and friend. I want to be active. Right now, I’m none of that. I feel as if I’m a shadow, going through necessary actions.

Thankfully everything in life is temporary – highs and lows and every season – it all passes and ripples and morphs into the next phase. I know that. I’m just ready to start reshaping this one, molding it like clay into a more invigorating life (and persona). However, I’m not the Potter. I’m the clay. God doesn’t want life to be lived under my own strength. He doesn’t want me to simply survive situations but to grow closer to Him, become more like Him. The temptation to insulate myself (and my family) rears its head. The desire to “write off” the difficult people and situations sneaks into my spirit. The fantasy of telling people they got themselves into this mess or lambast them for their deficiencies is attractive. But none of that is an option. As quickly as I find those ideas growing, I (try to) uproot and remove them from my psyche. That’s not who I was created to be. I was created to be cracked. I was created to ooze emotions and energy on the behalf of others. I was created to love. And that’s not easy or fun. It doesn’t feel good. It’s not romantic. I might not have the energy to respond to a writing prompt, or write at all. I might not be able to fathom training for a triathlon, or even running a 5k. But I will continue to love. Or at least strive to. But maybe after a nap?

Prayer

Though prayer has woven tighter into the fabric of my life lately, I’ve often thought I don’t pray for my own family enough, that it’s my husband and kids that fall through the cracks, that get the token rushed words tossed towards the sky.  They do tend to top my “thanksgiving” talks and prayers of gratefulness but it is certainly not my intention to slight them in intercessions.

My solution? I’ve started using natural prompts in my everyday routine. I pray for familial relations, transitions, interactions etc when cooking dinner. I pray for each boy individually as I make their lunches. I pray for my husband and our marriage as I do our laundry or prep for the next day.

They’re small moments but they’re worth embracing.

Be Still.

I stood in church yesterday during the first song, unable to sing. It was a praise song, one of my favorites, but I couldn’t. I was mad. All I could think was “Why. I don’t understand. Why take HIM? From THAT FAMILY? Haven’t they dealt with enough? Why this?”

Then the song transitioned into “Our God (is Greater)” the chorus of which says

“Our God is greater, our God is stronger
God You are higher than any other
Our God is Healer, awesome and power
Our God, Our God… “

Todd wasn’t healed…at least not physically. But he was healed emotionally and spiritually (per a post from his brother – obviously I haven’t spoken to him to know personally). And God whispered, aren’t those the more important aspects?

I. Lost. It.

I sobbed through the rest of the set from anger and just an overwhelming conviction. Because.

I cling to that statement of peace from his brother. Because I can’t contemplate the alternative and the very IDEA reduces me to a sobbing mess because it occurs to me that where people stand spiritually hasn’t been nearly the concern it should be.  It’s rarely something that crosses my mind except for the occasional rote ‘please open so and so’s heart to You’, recited out of habit and checklist, not out of love when really it should be forefront of my heart and mind on a regular basis. I should be crying out to God, begging Him to soften hearts, to work miracles in lives.

Conviction, yes. But also. Anger. Because really. Still. The suffering? Why? You’re Greater God. So why? I HEARD God tell me “I’m still in charge you know.” But I ignored it. I was mad and a sobbing mess and just. Grrrr. I was drained by the end of service from the sheer act of ignoring Him. It’s so easy to toss around the phrase “We live in a broken world.” We DO. But still. My husband (after reminding me about the suffering he watched as his grandfather died) stated “In the light of eternity, what’s a few days of suffering?”

BUT STILL.

This morning I was reading Exodus. And I couldn’t get pass the fact that God let his chosen people suffer. It just kept beating me about the head. He let His chosen people suffer. For generations. For a purpose that wasn’t to be fulfilled for many generations after that.

And then I recalled a conversation I had with LilBit last weekend. I told him we were stopping at the store on the way to church. He sighed heavily. We got done at Walgreens and as he skipped out he said “I thought we were going to the grocery store! Not Walgreens!” (He HATES the grocery store.) I replied “I didn’t specify which store.” He proceeded to inform me that I SHOULD have. And I said….and I quote “Why? You weren’t driving. All you have to do is ride along and trust me.”

And. Bam.

I don’t know why this family has to deal with this. I don’t have to like it. Which is good. Because I don’t.  But I don’t have to understand it either. All I have to do is ride along and trust Him.

Learn from others

1.  I had the opportunity to witness two people in almost identical situations today. One had slightly more urgent circumstances but her attitude was characterized by a steadfast faith in God, positive outlook and focus on others. The other person however seemed determined to wallow in frustration and impatience. Identical situations but completely different attitudes.

2. One of our employees succumbed last night to cancer. (I did not really know him…only met him a couple of times). But sadly all I heard all day was “Oh no! He was planning retirement. He was going to….x y & z…” etc. Never once did I hear about what how he lived or what he did in his life. It was all focused on what he planned and missed out on.

Summary? Don’t wait until later to start living. Planning for the future isn’t BAD but when it overshadows living NOW then there’s a problem. To me it highlighted that our time is limited. My future is in heaven and that’s where my focus should be BUT (and this is a huge BUT…no comments…geez…) BUT I’m here for a reason. I’m living NOW, for a reason. I can’t focus so much on the future that I miss life and opportunities now. And all the while – *I* control my attitude and outlook. And that can make the difference between blessing/uplifting someone and, well, not.